The abundant surviving Sicilian maiolica ware found throughout the Maltese Islands is evidence of cultural links between the two neighbouring countries. Particularly popular are the maiolica pieces produced in the renowned centre of Caltagirone. Even though in its making this artifact is not indigenous, the lavish use of this humble but highly decorative medium in the past centuries, has elevated this objet d’art to the status of cultural treasure in Maltese Heritage.
In conformity with Patrimonju’s aims, the majority of illustrations have never been viewed by the general public. A large corpus of these artifacts form part of the reserve collection at the National Museum of Fine Arts, Valletta. They date generally to the 17th and 18th centuries, however, rare specimens of earlier signed majolica pieces pre-date this time frame. Sicilian experts claim that it is rare to come across such a large collection of maiolica pre-dating the 18th century, especially if still in good condition. Several Sicilian specimens were in actual fact destroyed during the violent 1693 earthquake. Thus our national collection provides a unique opportunity for the study of maiolica on an international level.
Most of these intriguing artifacts are mere receptacles used to preserve medicinal concoctions and ointments in pharmacies whose presence in hospitals dates as far back as 1592. These drug jars are important material evidence of the Knights of St John as a Hospitaler Order. The variety of forms of these functional utensils is complemented by the intense colour that would stir any onlooker’s imagination to the endless shelves of apothecaries at the Sacra Infermeria and Santo Spirito. Their decorative qualities are an exercise in design with motifs such as foliage, blossoms, flowers and other intricate geometric patterns. Common features include escutcheons of the Grand Masters during whose rule they were acquired and in certain cases medallions with images of full figured saints, cherubs, portraits of soldiers and even landscape scenes.
Exceptional maiolica pieces have also been carefully selected from the Cathedral Museum, Mdina and Wignacourt Museum, Rabat and from private collections. Foreign and local experts have contributed to the publication, providing documentation and an historical background to the production of maiolica from Caltagirone.
Both the exhibition and the catalogue raisonnè accompanied Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti’s 10th exhibition and was organized in collaboration with the Istituto di Sociologia Luigi Sturzo of Caltagirone.